Recently, Conde Nast announced the closure of Gourmet Magazine. What happened there? It’s really very very simple: the traditional magazine has not kept pace with the needs of readers or advertisers. It isn’t that reading is going out of style – quite the opposite. It isn’t that people don’t care about quality – quite the opposite. The death of the traditional magazine has come about because people are demanding more information, of better quality, and faster.
In their place, he anticipates the rise of HP Magcloud print-on-demand journals created by Wikia communities. There’s an interesting addendum to the Gourmet example, though: Gourmet was published by Condé Nast, which also publishes Bon Appétit magazine. With ad rates and circulation in decline, carrying two food titles made no sense, so Condé Nast chose to preserve the one with the best profile and chop the other. In August, the Wall Street Journal put together a comparison of the two titles. Bon Appétit was losing ad pages at a lower rate, maintaining a higher circulation, and attracting readers with a higher income – in those terms, it was the obvious keeper.
But in online terms, it was the straggler. Wales compares the figures for Gourmet’s website with those for recipes.wikia.com, and uses them to argue that Wikia had superceded its print rival. Gourmet ranks 17,234; the Wikia site ranks 8,426; but Bon Appétit ranks 21,178 (all according to Quantcast). The better performer in print appears to be substantially the worse performer online.
This doesn’t mean that Wales is wrong to assume that a strong internet readership for a Wikia community represents an accessible market for a print product. But it does mean that, for the Gourmet example at least, print performance and online performance don’t correlate – and you can’t necessarily predict one from the other. It’s a commonplace that print publishers have a lot to learn about online communications. Would it be a surprise if online publishers also turned out to have a lot to learn about paper and ink?
Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009